Observations

In celebration of Chinese New Year at Sydney Observatory

Dr. Richard Chi has a background in neuroscience and works as an astronomy guide at Sydney Observatory and also leads our monthly Mandarin Chinese astronomy tours. In celebration of Chinese New Year Richard is running a special cultural astronomy tour in Mandarin Chinese on 7 February and below shares a cultural story relating to Chinese Valentine’s Day.

Only the interesting stories survive.
The forbidden love story between two star-crossed lovers is celebrated on Chinese Valentine’s Day, Qi Xi, which falls on the 7th day of the 7th month on the Chinese lunar calendar. If you have Chinese heritage, you would likely be familiar with the story of the Cowherder (Altair) and the Weaver Girl (Vega) that are separated by the heavenly river (Milky Way). However, you may not have considered how much this folklore has evolved in the last 3000 years. Initially, ancient Chinese astronomers categorised these bright stars to be in the asterism of the ox, which was practical to people’s lives and there was no tantalizing story. Then the story emerged that the two stars were in a marriage, with the weaver girl celebrated for her handicrafts. But it was the poets and the romantics who later popularised it as a forbidden love story, idealising love out of freedom rather than duty.

Vega the Weaver Girl in the top left of the image separated by the Milky Way from the Cowherder, Altair visible in the lower middle.
Image Credit: NASA, ESA Credit: A. Fujii [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Intriguingly, we humans see stars not as random dots of light, but as constellations with stories and meanings. And our interpretations change over time. So, by understanding how different cultures observed stars throughout time, we could get a sense of who they were as people, and who we are as humans.

In celebration of the Chinese New Year, we are running a special comparative cultural astronomy tour at 8.30pm on 7 February in Mandarin Chinese. Come and join us for an evening under the stars and make your own memorable stories!

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